Gov’t men absent in used car case



A SECURITY guard patrols Port Irene in Sta. Ana town, Cagayan province, on board a tricycle. It is in this port where ships carrying imported used cars dock. RICHARD BALONGLONG/INQUIRER NORTHERN LUZON

APARRI, Cagayan—Government lawyers were a no-show in Friday’s hearing to defend the government’s position to enforce a ban on the importation of used vehicles.

In an urgent motion, Assistant Solicitor General Thomas Laragan cited the “need for logistical support” for their attendance in the hearing as well as “time constraint” in asking for the postponement of court proceedings.

Friday’s scheduled hearing was supposed to be the first in the case filed by Fenix (Ceza) Inc., a licensed used car importer that has charged top government officials with refusing to comply with a writ of execution that allows the entry and registration of used imported vehicles into the country.

Fenix, one of two licensed importers of used vehicles in the Cagayan Special Economic Zone and Freeport, sued the heads of government agencies over their supposed “deliberate disobedience of or resistance” to court-issued writs that should have allowed the processing of at least 850 vehicles that the company has imported in the past seven weeks.

In its petition, Fenix said the writ, issued in 2011 by Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 8 in Aparri town, sought to enforce a 2010 ruling of the Supreme Court affirming the constitutionality of Executive Order No. 418, which allows the importation of used vehicles but with adjusted tariff rates.

However, the processing of the latest three batches of vehicles that arrived at Port Irene in Sta. Ana town, Cagayan province, was stopped after Customs Commissioner John Phillip Sevilla on Dec. 16 last year issued a memorandum directing the Port of Aparri to strictly implement EO 156, which imposed a ban on the registration of imported vehicles, with exceptions.

The absence of lawyers from the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) prompted Judge Conrado Tabaco to reset to

Feb. 18 the scheduled hearing at RTC Branch 8 here, which is handling the petition to cite the government officials in indirect contempt.

Absent from the hearing were heads of various agencies that include Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr.; Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima; Sevilla; Alfonso Tan Jr., officer in charge of the Land Transportation Office, and Jose Mari Ponce, administrator of the Cagayan Economic Zone Authority (Ceza).

Only Leilani Alameda, acting customs collector of the Port of Aparri, attended the hearing. She brought to the court Laragan’s faxed urgent motion, which she said she received an hour before the hearing.

Lawyers of Fenix, the petitioner, opposed the postponement, saying the days of interval from the time the OSG received the court summons on Jan. 30 should have given their lawyers ample time to prepare for the case.

They said they were also not given prior notice of the motion to defer the hearing.

Tabaco, however, said he was allowing the postponement “in the best interest of substantive justice and the principle of fair play.”

“The court is mindful that cases of this nature, in its application for injunctive relief, should be heard and resolved with dispatch. The court is mindful also that before the issuance of a TRO (temporary restraining order) or any injunctive relief, the [opposing] parties should be heard in a summary hearing,” Tabaco said.

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